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HP Lovecraft and His Work

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  • Just disenchanted with the easy-out, but it's-a-fair-cop; if you take his life and then take his work, you can draw a straight line, I'm not denying that.
    However, I think as we change as a world this view of him will include more of his totality and be a bit more compassionate (as with all other "mad" geniuses).
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    • Some great points so far, but I think the notion that Lovecraft was a reclusive shut-in is more mythology than fact. He traveled fairly often and fairly extensively along the US's eastern seaboard. And he had a diverse and large number of friends, at least one of whom had a reputation as a crusader against racial prejudice.

      When it comes to gleaning why he thought the way he did, I think his poem "On the Creation of [racist term deleted]" (the one at the heart of the recent World Fantasy Award controversy) is quite revealing, seeing as he wrote it when he was 6 or so. I just don't think there's much chance he came up with it all on his own. Rather, I think it tells me a lot about the household he was raised in.

      Beyond that...

      I don't think he was a pulp fiction hack. He had literary aspirations and, far as I can tell, looked down on a lot of pulp writing.

      Though I do believe he had his sad and bitter moments, I think wholly characterizing him as those things is unfair.

      For myself his work does not inspire alienation or fear or unease. Mostly it was just a congeries of intriguing vistas and interesting creatures. If the Call of Cthulhu RPG hadn't come out, I'd probably have just read some of his fiction and moved on (and stuck with Howard and Ashton Smith). Though Mike's associating him with crypto-fascists in "Starship Stormtroopers" did rouse a lot of curiosity about the charge.

      I'd like to see a Lovecraft quote where he declares himself a science fiction author, or anything close to it, as it seems to run counter to much of what he says in "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction."

      And yet again I reiterate that going on about his racism isn't about excoriating a dead man. It's mainly about understanding authorial intent and how this important aspect of his worldview informed his work. Because for me, it doesn't add to his work, but detracts -- and I think he had talent and intelligence enough that he didn't need racism to be able to write what he did. I haven't read any of his early works in ages, but I still think "Shadow Over Innsmouth" is readily seen as a metaphor for the one drop rule, that the subtext is race-mixing. Note that I don't think these are the only ways to see it, just one way; but likely a way that Lovecraft intended.
      Last edited by Heresiologist; 05-16-2015, 11:12 PM.

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      • Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post
        Some great points so far, but I think the notion that Lovecraft was a reclusive shut-in is more mythology than fact.
        .
        Those trips to visit friends occurred later in his life though, after he set up a circle of correspondents within the world of amateur fiction. I feel he was a shut-in in the sense of spending his entire youth housebound, he didn't even go to school for very long as his overprotective mother pulled him out citing his 'nervous condition'. There's an account of his mother chastising one of his aunts for holding his hand as he was 'too fragile' and his wrist might break. Given that kind of behavior it's probably safe to assume she led him to believe the world was a very scary and dangerous place and he was a very vulnerable little creature. I get the impression he was probably perfectly healthy but his mother had some kind of Munchhausen by proxy, possibly born out of the grief of losing her husband. That's just my speculation of course. I also don't want to sound like I'm blaming his mom for his failings, god knows what kind of life she had, being a woman of that time.

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        • Ah. Thanks for the clarification, Octo.

          Though it's more conventional to accept Lovecraft was a sickly child, can't say as I know of anything that goes against your understanding of Lovecraft's childhood and early youth. It does indeed seem a notably sheltered life.

          I find your speculations interesting and don't think they sound far-fetched.
          Last edited by Heresiologist; 05-16-2015, 11:13 PM.

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          • Shut-in by oppression or infirmity, that can definitely make you into a bully. i.e. loss of social-finesse and sensitivity.
            Last edited by SeeDoubleYou; 05-16-2015, 11:31 PM.
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            • I grew up in a strange little town much like the ones HPL wrote of(York could have been Arkham, Red Lion was a version of Innesmouth) The Hex Murder of 1929 happened in York Co. and the supernatural is a commonplace belief. It was worse when I was a kid.

              To call the place insular would be generous-the town had been a Klan hotbed before WWII(mostly concerned with Catholics and Jews), there were a lot of secrets there. Nasty ones.

              Most of the population was factory hands, with farmers in the rural area. The cigar business, furniture factories and defense industries had made a number of millionaires-it was once the richest small town in America-who did not share the wealth.

              For years, there was a brain-drain, as the brighter kids went off to college and never returned.

              I know what HPL went through.

              No deviation was permitted there, if you strayed(as I did, by liking scifi) you were an outcast, stupid and a queer. Being beaten up often and commonly mocked. No use telling the adults, they always made it worse.

              I hid in books. Not easy, the town had no library, except at the high school. There were no book stores, only paperbacks from the drug store.

              I lived there for a while, helping my Mom as she slipped away, and found the place depopulated. There were still bullies, though-but not as many, and not as powerful.

              My point? HPL presented a pretty good portrait of dysfunctional America before the sixties shook things up a bit. He used imaginary monsters in place of the Communists and Other Races, perhaps unconciously , in place of the largely imaginary menaces to the USA in his time,which continued into the fifties.

              I find the world that HPL presented quite natural(did I mention that York Co. also contains Toad Road and the Seven Gates to Hell?) I sort of grew up there.

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              • Yet another afterthought-getting lost.

                In many HPL stories, and tales based on his work, people get lost and find themselves going in circles or somehow doubling back on themselves.

                Lovecraft is said to have a fear of being lost, dating from his childhood. I feel for the guy, because it happens to me all too frequently(GPS is a good thing!)

                And every time, I think of how authentic that description of the experience is-just a few weeks ago I went for a walk in a part of the city I don't know at all, and spent two hours circling and backtracking, growing ever more frantic-then I passed a spot I'd been by several times, realized it was about a mile from my house and proceeded to make a grateful return.

                My dog enjoyed it, I didn't.

                I've also noticed that when lost, your opinion of others slips and some rather dark and bigoted thoughts will emerge-I'm not alone, read Flannery O'Conner's 'The Artificial Nigger' which subtly illustrates the roots of racism in fear,frustration and self-pity.

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                • Sorry, got called away when I had meant to add to Octo's speculations about Lovecraft's youth.

                  As a bonus for krakenten I'll refer to a line from Lovecraft's poem De Triumpho Naturae (but sorry, mate, it's a racist line):
                  Against God's will the Yankee freed the slave
                  Add that to other similar sentiments, my earlier comment about the "On the Creation of...," then consider how his family is usually portrayed as seriously old guard conservatives, and my highly conjectural conclusion is he grew up among a bunch of emancipation proclamation revanchists.

                  I suppose if I ever re-read "At the Mountains of Madness" I'll be wondering if and how this current of Lovecraft's thought manifests in his treatment of those alien scholars whose slaves ruined everything.
                  Last edited by Heresiologist; 05-17-2015, 10:16 AM.

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                  • There was a lot of pro-Confederate sympathy in America about that time. the Cavaliers of Dixie were romantic figures, and that attitude carried through into the sixties-watch a few John Ford westerns, and see how the Wounded Eagles of the South were portrayed.

                    Small matter, it's done now. A lot of the anger in the North came when southern blacks came North and began to compete for jobs, because of the massive casualties of the war and from outright xenophobia. The white,urban worker loathed anyone they didn't grow up with. Just like that town I grew up in, where all social bonds were formed in High School, and that was that.

                    Lovecraft had many faults as a writer, his racism was one of the lesser ones

                    Say what you will, HPL is a major writer-he hit a special note. He might have been forgotten, save that gamers adopted him-Cthulhu is such a convenient personification of Evil-now he's here to stay.

                    Machen gave us Deep Dendo, the Mao Games and those wicked Voorish domes. MR James put the story that inspired Curse of the Demon("Casting the Runes') before us, and we shuddered. Chambers wrote a few good ones, then went back to amusing shopgirls.

                    Still seems like HPL has the staying power-and the gall to lift ideas. He was free with his inventions-which made them even stronger.

                    Will ye, or nil ye HPL has left a footprint. There are many other authors I admire(foremost among 'em Diana Gabaldon!), and many wonderful traditions.

                    I still go back to HPL.

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                    • Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post

                      I suppose if I ever re-read "At the Mountains of Madness" I'll be wondering if and how this current of Lovecraft's thought manifests in his treatment of those alien scholars whose slaves ruined everything.
                      Never even thought about the Shoggoths/Old Ones in that way, interesting and disturbing. I wonder if it was deliberate or subconscious allegory.

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                      • Still thinking about writing a piece. One big case of writer's block.

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                        • Lovecraft's style seems to be pretty easy to adapt to other genres.

                          Detective yarns, spy fiction, space opera, even a sort of rom-com called "Resume With Monsters" or the Jane Austin mashup of a few years ago.

                          I've always loved Cthulhu espionage stories like "Declare" and "The Jennifer Morgue"

                          About the time Charles Stross was beginning the Laundry Files, I began publishing my Fu Manchu-ish tales of the Foundation and Repository. Stross is a lot better than I am.

                          So pick your favorite genre, choose a few Great Old Ones and let it rip!

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                          • Originally posted by Octo Seven View Post
                            Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post

                            I suppose if I ever re-read "At the Mountains of Madness" I'll be wondering if and how this current of Lovecraft's thought manifests in his treatment of those alien scholars whose slaves ruined everything.
                            Never even thought about the Shoggoths/Old Ones in that way, interesting and disturbing. I wonder if it was deliberate or subconscious allegory.
                            I seem to remember some passages about the shoggoth's crude attempts to mimic the culture of their betters. It seemed reminiscent of nazi/racialist notions of culture making, culture destroying and culture copying(?) races. Been a while since I read Mountains or had what I thought was a decent grasp of that aspect of nazi and racist thought, though. My weak, cop-out-ish conclusion is it's probably deliberate in some respects and unconscious in others.

                            I should also mention that I've read that "Shadow Over Innsmouth" was inspired by Lovecraft learning his great grandmother (maybe great great) was Welsh.

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                            • The Nazi philosophy was pretty loony-the Vril, the Hollow Earth, the Eternal Ice.....ancient astronuts!

                              People who try to solve real problems with magic are pretty lame, but spin the tv dial and see how much Occult thinking is still going on.

                              There are mysteries in the past-though the rule is, the more complex the mystery, the simpler the truth is. Again, beg pardon, I return to the Buckner Building in Whittier, AK, (The City Under One Roof) abandoned after a few years, as technology advanced, an earthquake cracked the walls and it was discovered that the damn thing was going to be nearly impossible to demolish.

                              Moving the debris presents ghastly problems, complicated by asbestos issues and restricted routes out of town-by sea or through a long tunnel. And as Frank Sinatra discovered about the huge gun in 'The Pride and the Passion' the stuff is heavier going downhill.

                              So perhaps the abandoned, cyclopean cities so often trotted out in ancient astronaut programs were simply too complex to sustain, and not worth the effort of demolition?

                              I dunno.

                              I do know that some of the explanations offered for mysterious places are a little.....inadequate.

                              There are lessons here, if we can figure out just what they are. And I'm not going to bring on Little Green Men, not just yet.

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